Dispensing fees at pharmacies — how do they work?

January 26, 2022

If you've ever picked up a prescription at a pharmacy, you may have heard about a dispensing fee or even had to pay one. But what exactly is a dispensing fee and how do they work?

"When pharmacists fill a prescription, they charge a dispensing fee to cover services such as storing and preparing medication, prescription verification, medication reviews to check for interactions and patient counselling," says Michelle Jovanovic, Manitoba Blue Cross's team lead, pharmacy services.

And if you've never heard of dispensing fees until now, know that every pharmacy includes this charge. It is not always clearly itemized on the bill, but it's built into the final prescription price.

But why do they differ between pharmacies?

"Pharmacy is a service industry and like other businesses, prices are set according to many business factors," Jovanovic says. These include overhead costs like rent and staffing, profit margins and other market dynamics.

"This means that dispensing fees can vary widely from pharmacy to pharmacy and can be a significant cost," she says.

Some pharmacies charge a flat fee- such as $9.95 for all prescriptions they dispense. Other pharmacies base their dispensing fees on a percentage of the ingredient cost- such as 10 per cent of the cost of the drug.

"Some pharmacies post their dispensing fee on their signage, but if you don't see it, you can ask your pharmacy what their dispensing fee is if you're concerned about the cost," Jovanovic says.

Why do some health coverage plans have dispensing fee caps?

"Dispensing fee caps help control costs and keep premiums manageable," Jovanovic says.

Fee caps encourage members to become smart shoppers to reduce their out-of-pocket expenses, she adds.

If you have a question about your dispensing fees, Jovanovic always recommends checking with your pharmacy. "It's important to remember that pharmacists are there to answer your questions, whether they're about dispensing fees or your prescription," she says. "So, if you have something on your mind, don't hesitate to ask!"

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